Cannabis 'does not slow multiple sclerosis' progress

Cannabis plants - generic The cannabis medication did not produce the "high" of the illegal street drug

Related Stories

Cannabis does not halt the progression of multiple sclerosis (MS), a medical trial has concluded.

The research - the biggest study of its kind in the UK - was carried out by the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth.

It involved patients taking pills containing the main active chemical in cannabis - tetrahydrocannabinol or THC - for three years.

The £8m trial found THC did help to ease MS symptoms, but there was no evidence it slowed its progression.

Modern cannabis medications do not produce a "high" - the psychoactive ingredients are either missing or delivered in a much lower dose than in the illegal street drug.

Lead researcher, Professor John Zajicek, will present the preliminary results of the Cupid (Cannabinoid Use in Progressive Inflammatory brain Disease) trial to the Association of British Neurologists in Brighton later.

Trial patient's view

Peter Atkey

Peter Atkey from Plymouth was diagnosed with MS in 2004 and took part in the Cupid trial.

"I was taking two pills in the morning and four in the evening and that allowed me to function properly while I was on the trial," he said.

"I think that over the three years I felt the MS didn't progress as it might have done if I wasn't taking the drug.

"But it didn't get any better... I'm disappointed, but that's life."

Mr Atkey said he would only consider taking the cannabis-based medication again if he was "convinced" it would help.

"If somebody said to me it would stop the progression, then yes I'd go back to it," he added.

Prof Zajicek said he was "disappointed" the overall effect was not better.

"There's lots of evidence cannabis has a symptomatic effect - it makes people's pain, muscle stiffness and spasms better," he said.

"But what we were doing in this trial was to see if we could slow down the course of the disease.

"There are very, very few treatments for any neuro-degenerative disease, whether it's Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or progressive multiple sclerosis and we were very much hoping cannabinoid might slow down the progression of the disease as opposed to just ameliorating people's symptoms.

"I'm very disappointed - not for me - but for people with MS and I think it's desperately important that we try to find treatments that slow their progression down."

The study - involving 500 MS patients from 27 centres around the UK - was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) on behalf of the MRC-NIHR partnership, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Multiple Sclerosis Trust.

Prof Zajicek said the "holy grail" of neuroscience researchers was to try to find drugs that would actually slow the progression of neuro-degenerative diseases.

Further trials were necessary, he said, but with a cost of about £5m, they would need financial backing.

"If we spent more money on these trials then we'd have answers and treatments for these degenerative diseases that we haven't got at the moment," he said.

"Progression of MS is thought to be due to death of nerve cells, and researchers around the world are desperately searching for treatments that may be 'neuroprotective'.

"Laboratory experiments have suggested that certain cannabis derivatives may be neuroprotective."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC Devon

Weather

Plymouth

14 °C 5 °C

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Wall art Off the wall

    Belfast is shifting its creative focus - from unconventional street art to modern sculptures

Programmes

  • A motorised skateboadThe Travel Show Watch

    The motorised skateboard which can reach speeds of 17mph (27 km/h) and other travel technology

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.